My Experience of Volunteering

Guest posts

Faculty: Health, Social Care & Education
Department: School of Education and Social Care
Course: BA (Hons) Social Work
Category: Social sciences and social care

3 August 2016

James is a 4th year social work student on the BA Social Work (Part-time) in Peterborough. In this blog, he shares his recent experience of volunteering for the charity Love Support Unite in Malawi.

Untitled PageLove Support Unite is a charity that operates in Malawi. They have an orphanage on the outskirts of Lilongwe, the capital city, and a school called Mkunku which is around 45 minutes from Lilongwe, off the beaten track into rural Malawi. The charity was founded by Alice and Nina Pulford (award winning volunteers) and they operate in a simple but effective way. They saw a need and they did something about it and they continue to do so. The charity is much more than an orphanage and a school, everything they do is sustainable: growing sustainable crops around the school to feed and educate local people, digging bore holes so there is access to water, regularly testing and treating malaria and forming links to local organisations.

I met Nina (and Alice I think) in Colombia and became friends on social media. I followed them as their charity grew and saw the amazing projects they started. I was determined to save money and go to help, taking some of my social work skills with me! So I did…with some very welcome but unexpected support from the Anglia Trust Scholarship.

My task in Malawi was to report on the issues that affect children at the orphanage and the school. I did my research and looked into Malawian culture before I travelled and a lot of what I read was confirmed. There are dangers which are not addressed by the police or Malawian government…in short it is common for young girls to be sold for marriage; prostitution exists and sexual abuse of children happens. Love Support Unite aim to highlight these issues, gather information and evidence and work hard to protect children.  One of the most interesting and eye opening experiences was a meeting with 21 local chiefs. This, in social work terms, is a test when thinking of cultural differences balanced with international human rights.

I also undertook direct work/counselling with the children and young people at Tilinanu Orphanage. The girls at Tilinanu really were bright, hard-working, intelligent people who were a pleasure to work with. Essentially the benefits of ongoing counselling would give them an amazing platform to succeed in whatever they want to do. I learnt a lot from them!

Across Malawi the big issues are prevalent: hunger and famine if the maize crop fails, diseases such as malaria and HIV and abuse of children (especially girls) and women. However, Malawi is a country without civil war, with good natured people, safer roads than many places I have been and after the rains, a lush green backdrop. Not to mention Lake Malawi! WOW!

There was so much of my experience that was relevant to social work. Understanding a culture that is different to our own whilst being clear on what is internationally recognised as abuse. Applying learning about relative and absolute poverty and using communication skills and theory with a very willing and attentive group of young people…no stigma or preconceptions at all!

I took a relationship based approach and by the end of the two weeks was able to set tasks and let the girls come to me if they so wished. With one person the impact was OK but the benefits of having a team of social workers would be incredible! Love Support Unite is a charity that loves passion and skill…they listen to ideas and they make things happen for the children. They design volunteering around your skills and they also appreciate you and treat you to some amazing experiences along the way…riding a horse bareback into Lake Malawi #justsaying.

Find out more about Love Support Unite or visit their Facebook page.

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